Tag Archives: oral poetry

Spoken Word – what’s in a name?

In my previous post, The Happiness Project, I used the term ‘spoken word’ in reference to Charles Spearin’s latest CD:

“This is a truly unique spoken word album and one well worth delving into.”

So, I was really interested to read a response to the post by Jacqueline Turner, questioning the use of the term, because of its preconceptions.

Thinking back, I used the term, because the project uses vocal sounds and patterns to create music, blurring the line between the everyday and art; between the spoken word and song.

Since releasing my debut CD with Sheish Money, I have also had alot of feedback stating that the album succeeds, because it is so different to most spoken word.

Maybe the term ‘spoken word’ has some baggage it needs to unload; maybe we need to come up with a different term; or maybe we are just splitting hairs?

I am stating the obvious when I say that poetry has always been an oral art form, but since the print revolution of the late 1800’s, there has been a definite shift toward print publication. Oral poetry has not been replaced by print publication, but the longevity and increased distribution of print has certainly made it the more dominant form during the last 100 years.

Technologies of Writing by Jaishree K. Odin is well worth reading. It states:

“In the preprint era, when only a small percentage of the population had access to written sources of information or knowledge, both public and private affairs were primarily conducted through oral communication. The primacy of physical presence in communication promoted community formations that were very much dependent on geographical togetherness and within that constraint further determined by communities based on parochial and family bonds. Printing revolution changed all that–for the first time, it was possible for political, economic, and culture producers to reach people who were dispersed geographically. As a result new types of communities were formed that were based on personal or professional interests, or political affiliations.”

This statement highlights the need for the oral and print tradition to survive side by side, as for me (and I will only speak for myself here), the ‘community formations’ which occur at readings such as SpeedPoets are just as important to the establishment of a thriving poetry culture as print and now electronic publication and distribtution are.

So with that cleared up (for me at least) why not call the oral art, spoken word?

Mark Mizaga’s article, The Spoken Word Movement of the 1990’s makes an interesting point:

“This issue of defining and classifying spoken word, and how much of spoken word can actually be termed as poetry, is a problem even for the artists themselves.”

Reading on, the difficulty seems to stem from issues such as marketing, the line between rap and poetry and a myriad other reasons. 

I use the term spoken word to describe the oral transaction a poet enters into when they stand up in front of an audience and read/recite/perform their poem.

Is there a better term? Or is the nature of a ‘term’ that it will eventually polarise some people? I don’t think there is any way around labelling things… even if we didn’t want to, it would happen.

So what’s in the name ‘spoken word’? I would love to hear your thoughts.

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